GREAT FALLS - U.S. Army veteran Measha Nyemaster reached a milestone Tuesday afternoon, she's the latest graduate of the Cascade County Veterans' Treatment Court.
The program is intended to give veterans who have legal issues and might be struggling with addiction an alternative to going to jail.
She's been regularly attending court sessions, meeting with service providers and support groups and doing community service.
Nyemaster's struggle was with alcohol and in 2021 she was charged with criminal endangerment.
After the ceremony, she said she's grateful for the program.
“They give you the support you need in the initial phases so that when you can heal and then you can start making better choices on your own. Because when things are so bad, you can't," Nyemaster said. "You can't make good choices.”
As a military veteran herself, Judge Elizabeth Best can relate to the men and women who take part in the Veterans' Treatment Court.
Best served in the United States Army's JAG Corps.
For two and half years, she’s been the administrator of the program.
“I want to hold people accountable, but I also want people to understand that they are supported by the entire team,” said Best.
That team includes case manager Kathy Hankes. She meets regularly with participants, linking them with service providers and treatment options.
“A lot of times when people go into treatment, it's easy to leave treatment, you know, and relapse is a huge part of that,” said Hankes. “The Veterans' Treatment Court ensures that they're staying in treatment, they're engaging, hold them accountable.”
Denver Cobb served 25 years in law enforcement. As court coordinator, he has oversight of the program, oversees the budget, and screens participants.
“It provides service to veterans who are involved with the justice system that, you know, they didn't know the service was out there for them or they knew it was there but didn't want to take advantage of the services out there for them,” said Cobb.
The program receives some state funding, but relies mostly on grants. Depending on the severity of their crime, veterans take part in a 12 to 14-month track, some longer, appearing regularly before Best while working frequently with other members of the support team.
“Most of our crime is driven by addictions and or mental health problems,” said Best.
During the program, veterans are encouraged to engage in support groups like The Sober Life. They also perform community service.
Because addiction can be a lifelong battle, many will stay engaged through alumni meetings and even supporting fellow veterans by simply being there for their court appearances.
The program aims to cut down on repeat offenses, and organizers say it’s working.
“We have a very successful program,” said Cobb. “I think our success rate is like 94%.”
Graduates also say it’s making a difference.
“They helped me greatly with all the treatment programs that they have available for veterans,” said recent graduate and Army veteran Henry Daychild, Jr.
“It's helped me find the tools to deal with the behaviors that led to my drinking,” said Air Force veteran Robert Anderson.
Air Force veteran Jayson Sterling appreciates the accountability.
“It made me be certain places at certain times, kind of adding structure to my life,” said Sterling.
Best says others could gain a lot from the program.
“I wish we had it for 90% of the people in our criminal justice system,” said Best.